If it’s happening to you, you have our sympathies… 

What is colic?

Colic is a very common condition which, oddly, only seems to affect horses and babies. In horses it refers to abdominal pain, but in babies it means ‘excessive crying without an obvious cause’. The NHS defines colic as a baby crying for more than three hours a day, three days a week, for at least one week.

What does colic look like?

Colic can strike at any time of day, although many parents find their babies kick off in the late afternoon or evening. Colicky babies cry, and they cry and cry, and it can be difficult to soothe them. They may look really uncomfortable, too, with red faces and clenched fists; knees scrunched up to their chests – or they might arch their backs. Often they’ll pass wind, spit up or have bowel movements, too. Of course, this can all be very distressing to deal with, but the good news is that babies generally get over colic entirely by the time they’re three or four months of age.

What causes colic?

No one really agrees on what’s behind colic. Some experts theorise that it’s gas pain from your baby’s immature digestive system; food allergies; acid reflux; or simply stress relief after a day of over-stimulation. The one thing they all agree on is this: colic is not a result of you doing anything wrong as a parent.

What helps colic?

Some research suggests that probiotics can help a colicky baby, and that babies who are carried a lot (and the easiest way to do this is by wearing your baby in a sling or carrier) tend to cry less.  

Because there’s no consensus on the causes of colic, it might be best to take a systematic approach – try feeding your baby upright, and burping them frequently to reduce gas pain. Hold your baby against your shoulder, and stroke and pat their tummy and to soothe them and relieve gas pain. You could also try the “colic carry” –  carrying them face-down with their belly on your forearm, also known as “tiger in the tree” – to expel any trapped wind more efficiently.

If you suspect some sort of food intolerance, talk to your doctor about changing your own diet, if you are breastfeeding, or your baby’s type of formula, if you’re bottle-feeding.

When should you call a doctor?

You might want to contact your doctor if your baby begins showing signs of colic anyway – it can be helpful to make notes about when the baby cries, for how long they cry, and what sort of day they’ve had leading up to the excessive crying.

Definitely call your GP or 111 immediately if your baby is blue or floppy, having trouble breathing, isn’t feeding, isn’t taking fluids, has blood in their poo, vomits up anything green, or has a fever about 38 degrees C. The NHS has more information on this.

What can you do about it?

You may feel very distressed about not being able to stop your baby crying, or help with whatever seems to be wrong – but know that you’re meant to feel this way. A baby’s cry is designed to cause its mother alarm as a sort of self-defence mechanism.

If you’ve cycled through every possible solution, and nothing seems to be medically wrong, then it’s often just a question of being there for your baby, knowing that it will pass, and – most importantly – taking care of yourself.

If your baby, as with many colicky newborns, begins his or her attack on your heartstrings and eardrums every evening, plan for it. Try to go for a nap earlier in the day to store up energy for the night ahead. Dim the lights and get your white noise app/baby carrier/array of energy-giving snacks ready.

Pop in some earplugs (you’ll still hear the baby; this way might just shred your ears a little less), cue up something to binge – with the subtitles on, of course – and try and go with it as much as you can. Being at least a little prepared will stop you feeling quite so helpless.

And then one evening you’ll look down and realise your baby is sleeping peacefully, or – even better – quietly staring up at you, and you’ll know that all the trouble was worth it. At least until the teenage years arrive.